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The punishing effect - 85%

TheNotrap, February 22nd, 2021

Minnesota-based blackened trio Suffering Hour is part of a new generation of bands that orbit dissonances spawned from death and black metal. Their style, which swings between Deathspell Omega and Artificial Brain, has as its main feature the plethora of effects used by guitarist, and main composer, Josh Raiken. I would even say that Josh's multi-effect guitar sound is the band's most distinctive characteristic and the core of its DNA. The constant use of vibratos, or chorus and flanger modulation effects, are pervasive in Suffering Hour's music, working as a fingerprint. Their 2017 debut, In Passing Ascension, and the subsequent one-track EP Dwell are among the most interesting dissonances sprouted in the last couple of years, being on par with modern classics such as Infrared Horizon or The Approaching Roar. Needless to say, I was looking forward to Suffering Hour's sophomore with a fair degree of curiosity and excitement.

Upon diving into the opener, I soon realized that the Minnesota lads would take a more atmospheric approach this time around. Their music now gains a more spacey and ethereal character, while still retaining a strong connection to the past. In this sense, 'Strongholds of Awakening' could not be a more appropriate starter. Its intricate dissonant riff envelops us like a malicious psychedelic snake that slowly imprisons us in a dark trance. This more atmospheric nature is thus the most contrasting nuance with the previous album and the foundation on which The Cyclic Reckoning rests. Josh's multi-effect guitar sound continues to lead the way, now with extra reverb and delay that propels the music into a more three-dimensional spectrum. Dylan Haseltine's deep gutturals and the solid rhythm section complete the soundscape in a perfect symbiosis.

All songs display a considerable tempo variation without ever ceasing to have a strong aesthetic connection. The first two tracks, 'Strongholds of Awakening' and 'Transcending Antecedent Visions', are the ones that reveal the greatest inspiration, instantly catapulting the listener into the album's sonic stratosphere. The latter's slow-tempo vibrato is among the album's most memorable moments, along with the neoclassical dissonance in 'Obscuration'. The mostly instrumental sequel to 'The Abrasive Black Dust' also features its highlights, namely the final sequence where Dylan's bass appears in all its glory. Curiously enough, the sixteen-minute finale 'The Foundations of Servitude' is the song that I find the least appealing, not because it is uninteresting, but because it fails to grab my attention all the way through. It's probably my fault since my attention span is not what it used to be; however, I do believe that despite its standouts, the song doesn't quite match the band's previous eighteen-minute epic 'Dwell'.

The Cyclic Reckoning is the band's logical step towards more atmospheric soundscapes while keeping its dissonant personality intact. I must admit I have some difficulty in categorically stating that it is the trio's best release to date, nevertheless it seems to me undeniable that it largely succeeds in solidifying the collective and establishing Suffering Hour as one of the most interesting acts the genre has to offer. And if I was asked to describe the album in a nutshell, I would point to Josh Raiken's modulation pedalboard and name it 'The punishing effect', and in doing so, it seems I may have just found myself a summary.

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